Hylke Faber, Pieter Stolk, eds. Escaping Occupied Europe: A Dutchman's Dangerous Journey to Join the Allies. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books, 2018. 152 pp. $22.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-5267-4123-3.
Reviewed by Jazmine Contreras (Department of History, University of Minnesota)
Published on H-Low-Countries (June, 2019)
Commissioned by Nicolaas P. Barr
First published in Dutch in 2006 as Wij zijn niet bang, tenminste, niet erg: Het Engelandvaardersboek van Daniël de Moulin, Dieke van Wijnen’s translation, Escaping Occupied Europe: A Dutchman’s Dangerous Journey to Join the Allies brings the captivating journey of Daniël de Moulin to life for English-speaking audiences for the first time. Written by Hylke Faber and Pieter Stolk, Escaping Occupied Europe provides an intimate look into the life of De Moulin, who not only served as a member of the nonviolent student anti-Nazi resistance in Utrecht but eventually become one of the 1,706 Dutch men and women known to have successfully made the perilous journey to join the Allies in England.
This book is unique in that it serves as both a primary and secondary source for scholars interested in the Dutch student resistance and the circumstances of the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. The style in which De Moulin’s story is presented also makes the book an accessible read for those outside of academia. A third of the book is dedicated to introducing the reader to De Moulin and the escalation of Nazi policies aimed at universities and students. After the November 1940 dismissal of Jewish employees, some students and professors decided to go on strike. As a response, one that would be used again in the future, the Universities of Delft and Leiden were closed. When enrollment limits of Jewish students were introduced in February 1941, only a few professors and student newspapers raised the issue. By the summer of 1941, student newspapers and organizations were banned and student organization buildings were repurposed for Dutch National Socialist (NSB) uses. The remaining pages of the book feature De Moulin’s translated travelogue. Faber and Stolk do not provide commentary on the contents of the journal, but rather let De Moulin speak for himself. Their summary of the history of the Nazi occupation allows readers to understand the context in which De Moulin made the decision to leave home.
De Moulin was born in the Dutch East Indies, a Dutch colony in present-day Indonesia, on September 12, 1919, to a middle-class family. Eventually returning to the Netherlands, De Moulin grew up in Naarden before moving to Utrecht to begin his studies at Utrecht University in September 1939. While at the university, De Moulin joined the student association Unitas Studiosorum Rheno-Traiectina (URC). This general student association split students into “year clubs” consisting of same-sex students from the same cohort. His prewar participation in the association heavily influenced his involvement in the clandestine student resistance when the occupation began in 1940. Since the student organizations were banned in June 1941, these organizations were forced underground and began to work alongside those student resistance groups whose aim was to directly challenge the Nazi occupation. De Moulin eventually became a member of the Council of Representatives, which was the local body that reported to the national student resistance board (the Council of Nine). De Moulin was personally responsible for organizing communication systems and association meetings. The Council of Nine, the umbrella organization made up of nine representatives from the various local councils, aimed to “promote a mentality that would make it possible to take a sure and disciplined stand against the anticipated measures against the university and its students” (p. 20). These student-based clandestine organizations differed from other resistance organizations in that they did not use violence or carry out forms of sabotage. The student resistance did not participate in activities aimed at dismantling the Nazi occupation, but rather mounted a symbolic resistance against the encroachment of Nazi values.
The Utrecht University administration believed accommodation to be the best practice for placating Nazi authorities and ensuring that the university remained open. This caused a significant amount of discord between the student resistance and the chancellor. Nazi reprisals against students increased in 1943 and led to a requirement that students sign a declaration of loyalty. In response, the Council of Nine issued a memorandum stating that students should not sign the declaration, should avoid work in Germany at all costs, and should refuse to continue their education. As a result, only 12.6 percent of the student body signed the declaration. By 1943, occupation officials shifted their focus to deporting as many able-bodied students (mostly men) as possible for Arbeitseinsatz (forced labor) in Germany. It was during this moment of uncertainty that De Moulin decided to flee to England. It should be noted that by 1943, when efforts to conscript Dutch men for forced labor began in earnest, resistance organizations were much more prepared to aid them.
As a young man without family or work obligations, De Moulin fit the profile of one who could undertake such a long and dangerous journey. During the initial period of the occupation, it was possible to set off from the Dutch coast across the North Sea, but eventually, monitoring of the coast and a lack of fuel made it impossible to escape using this route. Only 172 people managed to use this route when making their escape (p. 31). By the time that De Moulin was ready to depart in 1943, the land route by way of Belgium, France, and Spain had become the only tenable option. Despite being the most popular route used by Engelandvaarders (England-bound travelers), the route took considerably longer and forced escapees to rely on established networks or, in most cases, the kindness of strangers.
It is at this point in the book that Faber and Stolke’s chapters end and De Moulin’s narration begins. De Moulin left the Netherlands with two companions, Rolande Kloesmeijer (Kloesje) and Lodewijk Parren, in March 1943. Rather than writing about his travels as he made his way throughout occupied Europe, De Moulin documented his trip immediately after he reached safety in England. His journal was written for the explicit purpose of informing his immediate family about his journey. Unlike a personal diary, in which the author often writes without an audience in mind, De Moulin wrote his story for his parents. It is important to remember this point while reading the travelogue. Since the editors do not comment on the degree to which De Moulin censors himself, it is unclear whether and how much the events of the trip differ from his account. His account is not meant to be a comprehensive report, but rather a diary of experiences and events he found most impactful or noteworthy. De Moulin’s journal is important because it provides us with a first-person account of escape.
From the moment 23-year-old De Moulin and his friends left the Netherlands, they ran the risk of being arrested. Their safety largely depended on which city they were in and whether they managed to develop local contacts. For example, their time in Belgium was fairly uneventful, due to the kindness of their colleague’s extended family. In contrast, their time in France was marred by starvation, run-ins with the Gestapo, and bouts of sickness. It is clear that De Moulin downplays much of his discomfort and chooses instead to describe in detail the suffering of his friends. It is also apparent that they owed their survival to the locals and other travelers they encountered. Their trek through the Pyrenees—which proved fatal for many Engelandvaarders and Jewish refugees—would not have been possible without the generosity of their four French travel companions. The four men paid for a portion of the guide’s fee and helped Lodewijk Parren whenever he struggled. According to De Moulin, crossing the Pyrenees was “an unspeakable nightmare” (p. 87).
The most striking aspect of De Moulin’s journey is the extent to which they received preferential treatment. There is a stark contrast between their travels and the recorded experiences of Jews who escaped using the route through the Pyrenees into Spain. Once De Moulin and his two companions entered Spain, they were immediately arrested by the Guardia Civil (police for both the civil and military populations). Thanks to Kloesmeijer and the representative from the Dutch consulate, Parren and De Moulin only stayed in a Spanish prison for five days, and after a few weeks were allowed to travel to Madrid. Once in Madrid, they were given accommodations at a hotel, money, vouchers, and access to a pool. De Moulin writes, “Because we were on such good terms with one of the envoys, who had read our report (on the Dutch student resistance) and was very pleased with it and asked us to dinner and so forth, we were held in rather high regard” (p. 104).
Once they reached Spain, the relationship between the two men and Kloesmeijer deteriorated. Parren and De Moulin distanced themselves from her and made new friends in the city. After a month, they received Portuguese visas and headed to their final stop. In Lisbon, De Moulin and Parren stayed at a former resort while they waited for the results of their physical examination. The British only allowed those who signed up for military service (with a clean bill of health) and those who had secured jobs to come to London. This meant that many women and those Dutch Jews who could not serve in the military were not rescued from the continent. Once De Moulin reached London, he was subjected to a series of interrogations by British and Dutch authorities. Once cleared, De Moulin made the decision to enlist in the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (KNIL). He underwent training in Australia and then aided in the liberation of the Dutch East Indies from Japan. De Moulin did not reach Dutch soil again until June of 1946.
De Moulin never resisted the opportunity to comment on his surroundings or critique the type of treatment he received. His age, education, and class background are reflected in his appraisement of those he encounters and the judgment he bestows on them. One is reminded of the desperate attempts made by Jews to escape Nazi-occupied Europe or the unlucky refugees who languished in Spanish concentration camps for months whenever De Moulin laments the poor conditions of his lodgings or the conditions in which his rural rescuers lived. Despite this tendency, his heroism should not be downplayed. De Moulin represents the many young men who chose to fight the Germans on patriotic grounds.
While Escaping Occupied Europe is a primary and secondary source, the book should be viewed primarily as a primary source. While the first half of the book provides necessary background information on the student resistance, those unfamiliar with the context of the Second World War outside of the Netherlands are forced to rely solely on De Moulin’s account. After De Moulin’s travelogue is completed, editors Faber and Stolk do not analyze his experiences or comment on the circumstances De Moulin found himself in. With only limited details provided about Vichy France and Fascist Spain, nonspecialists are left unaware of the specific policies and full scope of the dangers that illegal travel posed.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-low-countries.
Jazmine Contreras. Review of Faber, Hylke; Stolk, Pieter, eds., Escaping Occupied Europe: A Dutchman's Dangerous Journey to Join the Allies.
H-Low-Countries, H-Net Reviews.
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